14 February 2008

What should I call this post?

So yesterday was an interesting one. I met a woman from my German class at Alexaplatz and we went to Prenzlauer Berg to 1. grab a coffee and 2. for me to visit the St. George's Bookshop . Y is also in Berlin with her husband, a German, being detailed to a project here for a 3 year contract. (Parenthetically, it's been great that another adult joined my class, because sometimes being surrounded by kids 20 years younger can get a little old, although they are all very nice.)

We found a cute little place, sat down and put our feet up on bags of coffee beans and started to chat. Both of our dad's had similar life experiences and I was enjoying learning about her life, when an older (perhaps late 50's?) German man asked her if we were American. She said that she was Israeli and I American and the gentleman than asked me who would win: Obama or Clinton. In my poor German I pointed out that McCain was also running, but I told him who I had voted for in the primary and then I added that of the three current candidates, McCain, Clinton and Obama, I felt confident that any would be a reasonable President.

At that point, the gentleman agreed, and added that Bush was like Hitler. My response was, no , Bush might be stupid, but he is not a mass murderer. We then cheerfully wished each other a good day and waved a happy Tschuss to each other as he left.

After he left, Y and I discussed the conversation. She felt that he should have responded more sensitively, particularly after she had mentioned that she was Israeli. I felt that it really went to the point that many Germans realy have not come to terms with their complicity in the Shoah. That anyone could , in all seriousness, equate Bush with Hitler is just ridiculous and devaluing to the murder of millions as well as perhaps making the person who uses the comparison feel better about his collective guilt. The man drinking coffee behind us, German, perhaps in his 30's, chuckled. I turned to him and asked if he thought what I was saying was funny (perhaps I was feeling a bit confrontational) (and also perhaps I was being a bit snarky and sarcastic) and he said No, he absolutely agreed with me. So perhaps there is an age shift.

It reminds me of my mother's neighbor at home, who is an older German, old enough to have been alive and knowledeable and perhaps complicit in WWII, and how he once said to my parents that what Americans did to Germans in POW camps was comparable to what the Nazis did to Jews in the death and labor camps. And he said that, knowing that my father is a death camp survivor. An interesting pathology.

On that note, I was reading in Brit in Germany about the current DeutscheBahn exhibition on its role in the mass murder of millions: a necessary part that created the ability to carry out "The Final Solution" and a very profitable one to the Bahn (they charged per head). The exhibition produced a bit of a stir and I saw a newsbite on BBC so I had gone over to Potsdamer Platz to see it. Once there, I needed to ask direction, because the actual exhibit is both very small and well screened off with the screens on which the copies of documents are placed.

Of course, I am not German fluent, so I could only scan it. But I found the "banality of evil" moving while also considering that once again I think Germans are very kind to themselves in not inflicting the actual scenes of horror upon themselves.

And after this, when I went to St. George's, I picked up 4 books on the Shoah. Was it related to this? Perhaps not. But perhaps I find myself emphasizing more the "need to know" when I see the world around me pretending not to.


Diane Mandy said...

I've been told it is a very generational thing and also a diference between those who grew up in East Germany vs West Germany when the country divided. Very odd, indeed!

Lynda said...

Yes I agree it is generational - I too found myself becoming quite passionate about this subject when I lived in Germany. Too the point that my husband asked me to please stop! please stop! - (there is a fine line between interest and obsession) - later, as my German progressed I had some incredible conversations with older Germans that had lived through WWII - their stories are sometimes as heartbreaking as any other nationality involved. To date, I know more about my husbands family history during this period than anyone else - simply because I asked. Everyone has a story.